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We can refer to tonight’s February Full Moon as the Snow Moon, Ice Moon, Hunger Moon, Old, Storm or Grandfather Moon. Most names for the month refer to very wintery weather. Of course, if you’re in a warmer climate, they may seem inappropriate.

Tonight’s Full Moon also coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse. They are not as spectacular or as noticeable as a total lunar eclipse. When the Moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow (which is known as the penumbra), the shadow blocks part of the sun’s rays. Therefore, the Moon will only appear slightly darker than usual.

To Colonial Americans, this was the Trapper’s Moon or simply the Winter Moon.

Tonight’s Full Moon will fall on a snow-covered Paradelle, so the moonlight should be quite bright, even with that Earth shadow.



We entered 2017 with a nice pairing of the planets of love and war in the sky. Venus and Mars were close together all through January. The Moon was right there too as the year began and it will work its way back to the planets – at least in our view – as the month ends January 31.

But the major astronomical event of 2017 will be a total solar eclipse. We have not had a total solar eclipse in the mainland U.S. since 1979.

It is two seasons away, but on August 21, 2017 the Moon will completely block the sun, and this solar eclipse can be seen across the United States.

But, you will have to be at the right place at the right time to see totality (when the sun is totally blocked by the moon). There is an area that is a narrow path about 75 miles wide between Oregon and South Carolina that will be prime viewing. You can view a detailed map of the eclipse online.  Perhaps, you should plan now for a little vacation in August to see the eclipse.

If that’s too far off to think about, or if you’re not ready to take an eclipse vacation, then here’s an alternative. On February 11, we will have a penumbral lunar eclipse. This is when the Moon enters the lighter shadow of the earth. But the effect is hard to notice and a lot less cool than the August event.

A total penumbral lunar eclipse dims the moon in direct proportion to the area of the Sun's disk blocked by the Earth. This comparison shows the southern shadow penumbral lunar eclipse of January 1999 (left) to the moon outside of the shadow (right) demonstrates this subtle dimming.

A total penumbral lunar eclipse dims the moon in direct proportion to the area of the Sun’s disk blocked by the Earth. This comparison shows the southern shadow penumbral lunar eclipse of January 1999 (left) to the moon outside of the shadow (right) demonstrates this subtle dimming.  Image via Wikipedia



If you’re in North America and the Pacific, you may be able to see a very subtle partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon on the morning of March 23, 2016.  Western North America has the eclipse taking place in its sky from start to finish. Look for the eclipse shortly before dawn breaks.

The Moon will look full tonight but it still is a waxing gibbous moon until it “officially” is full on March 23 at 12:01 Universal Time (8:01 a.m. EDT).

There are many names for the monthly Full Moons. I try to choose a new one each year and this time I selected the Earth Cracks Moon. That sounds rather ominous, but it only refers to the heaving soil as we transition into spring with cold nights and warm days. Another name – the Full Worm Moon – also refers to the thawing ground and the earthworm casts that can appear, which delights the robins.

Those names and the Full Crust Moon are all more common with Indian tribes than with the European settlers, though in northern climes all parties would have observed both natural occurrences. To the settlers, it was known by names such as the Lenten Moon and Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees.

Some northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, because the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter, but look at all the names I have uncovered for this winter-into-spring Full Moon:  Fish Moon, Medieval Chaste Moon, (Choctaw) Big Famine Moon,  (Cherokee) Windy Moon,  (Dakotah Sioux) Moon When Eyes Are Sore from Bright Snow, (Celtic) Moon of the Winds, Oak Moon, Storm Moon, Seed Moon, Maple Moon, Chaste Moon, Strong Wind Moon, Moon of Wakening, Light Snow Moon, Flower Time Moon, Cactus Blossom Moon, Rust Moon, Spring Moon, Whispering Wind Moon, Windy Moon, Death Moon, Sleepy Moon, and Big Famine Moon.

Partial phase of the April 14-15, 2014 total lunar eclipse – photo by Fred Espenak

As I wrote last weekend, there is a total eclipse of the moon tonight (September 27-28, 2015).  Being that it is also the closest of this year’s supermoons, there is more drama to the event. For those of us north of the equator, it is a Harvest Full Moon (the one nearest the autumn equinox). It is many named lunar events!

You might also hear the term “Blood Moon” used because this is the fourth and final eclipse in four straight total eclipses of the moon, spaced at six lunar months (full moons) apart. That is known as a lunar tetrad.

The total lunar eclipse is visible from the most of North America and all of South America after sunset tonight.



I’m giving you a week’s notice. There are too many descriptors for this month’s Full Moon that will appear on Sunday, September 27.  Super Harvest Blood Full Moon Eclipse covers most of the lunar adjectives that will probably be in the media this week.

September’s Full Moon is often called the Harvest Moon, but it will be at perigee and that gets it the additional tag of being a closer “supermoon.” It will be the closest Full Moon of this year. There will also be a total eclipse of the Moon.

Some people will call this a Blood Moon eclipse. It concludes a series of four straight total lunar eclipses that started on April 15, 2014. In California and Washington State, with their unfortunate wildfires, the soot in the air might even make the lunar eclipse appear more violet than red.

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It is usually in September though it can be in October. This year the autumnal equinox was on Wednesday, September 23, so this Full Moon is just 4 days later.

The Harvest Moon is probably the most popular name for this Full Moon because it was the only one given the same name by both the English and by many American Indian tribes of eastern and northern North America.

Staples like corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice were typically ready for harvest by this Full Moon. Another name used by some tribes was the Corn Moon.

I did find other names for the September Full Moon, including the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon, the Gypsy Moon, the Barley Moon and the Elk Call Moon.

This Full Moon is often though of and portrayed in pictures as being orange or red-tinged moon which seems appropriate to the autumn color palette. But any special effects have to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The warm color of the moon shortly after it rises is an optical illusion, based on the fact that when the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through a greater amount of atmospheric particles (including pollution and smoke) than when the moon is overhead. Those particles scatter the blue part of the light spectrum but allows the reddish component of the light to travel a straighter path to your eyes.

All celestial bodies look reddish when they are low in the sky. We also like to portray moonlight as blue in art, photography and films which comes from the reflected white light from the sun.

And although the size of the Moon never changes, it will be closer this weekend, and the human eye perceives a low-hanging moon to be larger than one that’s high in the sky. If you want the full effect of this Full Moon illusion, look at it when it is low in the sky.

And hello to our southern hemisphere friends! Remember that the Full Moons of September, October and November as seen from the northern hemisphere correspond to the full moons of March, April and May as seen from the southern hemisphere, and aw we enter the autumn equinox later this week, they enter spring.



October 2014 lunar eclipse by Tomruen, Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Eclipses – lunar or solar – always get the popular media excited. It’s a good one minute filler on the news. We have one arriving tomorrow, April 4.

They always make me wonder about how these events must have been viewed by ancient and primitive people. Certainly with more wonder than today. We might today glibly say that they were just ignorant, but ask most people alive today to explain in any detail what actually happens to cause a lunar or solar eclipse and why, and you are likely to get pretty thin information.

In my youth, I enjoyed reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court which includes a solar eclipse in its plotting. The modern-day Yankee, Hank, travels back in time (Or does he?) via a bump on the head to early medieval England and the Camelot of King Arthur. Seen as being too strange – and feared by the magician Merlin – he is sentenced to be burned at the stake. The date is set for June 21 and Hank knows that is the day of a solar eclipse. He uses the eclipse as an example of his own wizarding powers and scares the people by saying that he will blot out the Sun if they execute him.

Twain didn’t have Wikipedia to check, so he was off a bit off on his calculation of when an eclipse would have occurred in 528. The solar eclipses nearest in time to June 21, both partial and both in the Southern Hemisphere at maximum, in 528 occurred on March 6 and August 1. But in fictionland, he bargains with Arthur, is released, and becomes the second most powerful person in the kingdom. The power of an eclipse.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly behind the Earth and into its umbra (shadow). This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. The term for this is a good Scrabble word: syzygy.

That means that a lunar eclipse can only occur with  a Full Moon. The type of eclipse and the length of time depends upon the Moon’s location relative to its orbital nodes.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which can only be viewed from a certain relatively small area of the world, a lunar eclipse may be viewed from anywhere on the night side of the Earth.

Lunar eclipses last for a few hours from start to finish, but a total solar eclipse only lasts for only a few minutes because of the smaller size of the Moon’s shadow.

It is safe to view the much dimmer lunar eclipse without any eye protection, while it is not safe to view a solar with the naked eye. I wonder how those ancients and the crowd watching Hank in Camelot fared?

The photo of the lunar eclipse at the top of this post may confuse or disappoint you. Shouldn’t the Moon be gone from the picture? The Moon does not completely disappear as it passes through the umbra/shadow because of the refraction of sunlight by the Earth’s atmosphere into the shadow. Now, if the Earth had no atmosphere (not a good thing for us!), the Moon would be completely dark during an eclipse. That reddish color is because sunlight reaching the Moon must pass through a long and dense layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, where it is scattered into the red wavelength.

This particular lunar eclipse tomorrow morning is perfect for the short attention span of our age. The totality, or total phase, of tomorrow’s lunar eclipse will last less than five minutes. That makes it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

Scientists consider the entire eclipse (this includes the penumbral and partial phases) and in that case it lasts several hours.

The total lunar eclipse will be visible from western North America, eastern Asia, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in North American time zones, the “eclipse” we all know and love happens in the morning before sunrise on Saturday, April 4.

Readers in the Eastern Hemisphere – eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia – can observe it after sunset April 4.  The website always lists eclipse times in Universal Time and for North American time zones.


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